Travel trouble: League in rush to get visa exemptions for Irish players

A SERIES of hurdles stand in the way of Irish players making their way to Australia for the upcoming NAB AFLW season.

There are 17 Irish players on AFLW lists, with the AFL, AFLPA and player managers working overtime to help get the women into the country. 

Normally, Irish AFL and AFLW players enter the country on elite sport visas, but with the national borders shut due to the COVID-19 crisis, an exemption for each player is needed from the Australian Border Force.

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"The AFL is working to secure the exemptions for the players, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks we'll have confirmation of that, and we can finalise the visa process and then the booking of flights," player agent Jason Hill told womens.afl

Aisling McCarthy shows her disappointment after a Bulldogs loss. Picture: AFL Photos

Hill, co-founder of the Crosscoders program, has nine Irish players on his books – Aisling McCarthy, Niamh and Grace Kelly, Aine Tighe, Ailish Considine, Aishling Sheridan, Katy Herron, Yvonne Bonner and Orla O'Dwyer – and said flights are proving to be an issue. 

"Orla O'Dwyer is an Australian citizen with an Australian passport, so she can book a flight to come here and doesn't have to wait for an exemption," he said.

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"But we're having difficulties because flights are being cancelled because they're not full enough, or they're too full and would put Australia over its cap of daily arrivals.

"It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation when it comes to booking the right flight." 

Orla O'Dwyer gets a handball away for the Lions. Picture: AFL Photos

While Australia – and Melbourne in particular – is emerging from COVID-related restrictions, Europe is progressively ramping up limits on movement as it enters winter and cases continue to climb.

Ireland has started its own "level five" restrictions, which are on a similar par to Victoria's stage four, adding an extra emotional complexity to leaving home.  

The Gaelic football All-Ireland Grand Final is currently fixtured for December 20, with some players having previously agreed with their AFLW club to not come out to Australia until their commitments are over.   

For players with children such as Bulldog Katy Herron and new Giants rookie Bríd Stack, there are additional things to juggle and consider.

Katy Herron in action for the Bulldogs. Picture: AFL Photos

"It's pretty dire right now in Ireland, so there's the emotional aspect of leaving friends and family in this time, which isn't great," Hill said

"If you come out late December and have to quarantine for two weeks by yourself, that can impact Christmas.

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"Then you've got the fact that when this first happened, it was quite a whirlwind, girls were on flights within 48 hours of the season being cancelled. 

"If there was another wave here in Australia and the 2021 season does get cancelled, that emotional scarring of going through that again is something clubs will have to be aware of, and there won't necessarily be the amount of flights available that there were back in March.

"The girls are excited to get to Australia, the major anxiety for them is not being able to get a clear picture of what's going to happen when they get here." 

Grace Kelly in action for West Coast. Picture: AFL Photos

IRISH AFLW PLAYERS IN 2021

Ailish Considine (Adelaide)
Orla O'Dwyer (Brisbane)
Sarah Rowe (Collingwood)
Aishling Sheridan (Collingwood)
Aine Tighe (Fremantle)
Yvonne Bonner (GWS)
Bríd Stack (GWS)
Cora Staunton (GWS)
Sinead Goldrick (Melbourne)
Lauren Magee (Melbourne)
Niamh McEvoy (Melbourne)
Aileen Gilroy (North Melbourne)
Clara Fitzpatrick (St Kilda)
Grace Kelly (West Coast)
Niamh Kelly (West Coast)
Aisling McCarthy (West Coast)
Katy Herron (Western Bulldogs)